Merlin (Photo: Laurie Campbell)
The Merlin is Europe’s smallest bird of Prey
Merlins are a tiny bird of prey, not much larger than a thrush, feeding mainly on small moorland birds such as Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, and Wheatears. They are most often glimpsed darting across the moor chasing a small bird. They are always on the move looking for their next meal and can be recognised by their short pointed wings and rapid flight.
Merlins don’t build nests
On Harris Merlins nest on the ground among deep heather and like other falcons don’t really make much of a nest, just a kind of scrape under a clump of heather. In other areas where they nest in trees they use the old nests of other birds such as crows but they never build their own nests. Being ground nesters they are vulnerable to predation from mammals such as stoats and foxes but as we don’t have any of these mammals on Harris, Merlins are very successful here and are one of our most common birds of prey.
Females Merlins are much larger than Males
In most birds, males and females are a similar size or males are larger than females, but among birds of prey females are larger than males. In the case of the Merlin, females can be almost twice the weight of the male. By being different sizes a pair of Merlin’s can catch a larger variety of prey - the smaller males are more agile and can catch small birds and even moths, whilst females can take larger prey such as thrushes and waders such as golden plover. Also, as the female spends a lot of time near the nest protecting her young, it helps if she is large so that she can defend her nest against predators.